Rachel felt strange. Her head seemed to be floating somewhere above her body. She wasn't attached to herself. She wasn't really her. She felt as though she were watching the girl that was really her. Although it didn't seem that way. She couldn't be the girl with the icky following along behind. And she knew that it was following her now.
Rachel trailed along behind Helene and Tierney. They went from breakfast, to a nearby mall where Tierney bought several bras, and Helene guided them into a new age shop where they she purchased three packages of incense and small package of sage.
"This sage will help cleanse you of the icky," Helene told Rachel. "Sage is the best herb for cleansing properties."
"If she can be cleansed," Tierney added. "Sometimes ickies are sticky. You can't always make them leave."
Rachel felt a movement in her chest. She felt something hot churning and building. She felt the tendrils of a smoke finger brushing against the back of her neck. It was behind her now. It was directly behind her, but she knew that nobody else could see it.
After they left the new age shop, they drove for a long while, until they reached a bookstore.
"It's called the book labrynth," Helen explained. "I love this place. It has all of the best books. It has books about Wicca that we can't find anywhere else."
Rachel swallowed thickly and nodded. Her head was filled with a sharp buzzing. She wondered if the icky could see her right now. The hairs on her arms lifted up.
She could feel him. The man on fire was touching her now.
Rachel's insides seemed to harden and still. Everything inside of her became a stone.
With a leaden constitution, she followed them into the bookstore. The books were haphazardly hewn about the clustered space. There were only a few shelves. The majority of the books, overflowed bulging cardboard boxes, or they were simply in piles along the walls. The lights were low and the air was stale. It rank of congealed dust.
A man who was old, but dressed as if he were young, came hurrying into the small space, appearing from a doorway behind a desk.
"Hel! T!" he greeted the women. "How you all, doing? Oh, and who's this?"
The man smiled at Rachel, revealing a sparse row of brown teeth. His gray hair was long and stringy on either side of his thin face. He wore a faded greed tye-dye t-shirt with a picture of a smiling dancing bear.
"This is my daughter," Helene said. "The one that lives with my mom."
"Ah! The infamous Rachel!" the old man smiled. "How are you doing today, sweetheart?"
Rachel smiled tightly and shrugged.
"I'm okay. How are you?"
"Just fine! Any books that I can help you find today? What do you like to read about?"
Rachel. She floated somewhere above herself. She looked at herself, and the wisps of the man on fire somewhere nearby. She activated her muscles and formulated her words, as if she wasn't really in herself. It was like she was controlling a character in one of her computer games.
"Do you have any books about Spontaneous Combustion?" the girl who was actually Rachel asked.
The man's registered surprise.
"Yes....Is that a topic that you're interested in?"
The girl who was really Rachel brought her head up and down. Up and down. Nodding is how a person conveys assent.
Next to Rachel, Tierney nudged Helene in the side.
"Don't let her read about that," she said in a voice that was meant to be too quiet for Rachel to hear; except that she did. She heard what Tierney said and if she hadn't felt so hard inside, she probably would have felt a large degree of shame.
"It's fine," Helene muttered back. "She was reading about that stuff before I ever met her."
Tierney sighed, and began making her way into the adjoining room, where Rachel could see even more tumultuous piles of books stacked and teetering.
"I want to know more about Spontaneous Human Combustion," Rachel instructed the girl that was really her to say. The words came out of her mouth and died on the air in front of her. "I only have one book about it."
The man passed a glance over to Helene. Something was communicated between them, and neither of the Rachel's, the one that was floating somewhere with the man on fire right behind her, or the one with a body, with feet planted on the ground; could understand what non-verbal message had been transmitted. It was too thin for her to catch.
The old man looked back to Rachel.
"There are some books on SHC in that second pile next to the door."
"Thank you," Rachel heard her body answer. "I'm haunted you know."
"Are....are you?" the man stammered. His eyes were big behind the lenses of his square glasses.
"Yes, but I'm not that afraid. I could still spontaneously combust before the icky can get me."
YOU ARE READING
***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...